The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to purchase our trip during one of Uniworld's buy-one-get-one-free cruise fares and discounted airfare specials. Upon arrival to Vienna Austria, we went through customs and immigration, and collected our luggage. In baggage claim a representative from Uniworld was waiting for us and took us immediately to our bus that transported us to the pier where we boarded the River Duchess where a lunch buffet had been set out. Check in took a little bit of time as several passengers had arrived at one time, and there were only two crew completing check-in procedures, but we were served wine and were able to have light lunch while awaiting check in and for our cabins to be prepared.
Cabins: The were adequately sized with a typical cruise-ship sized bathroom. All cabins have a view of the river, and we were in a category 5 stateroom, the lowest of the categories. Our view of the river was very close to the waterline, but we enjoyed hearing the water hitting the hull at night. In the literature that we received from Uniworld prior to leaving, we were instructed to pack lightly as there isn't much storage space for luggage. This is true, and there is a laundry room on the ship that was convenient to use. I had brought some laundry soap from home in one of my little travel bottles, and found this to be convenient as well.
Food: Breakfast and lunch both consisted of a buffet and dinner had a menu service with a few choices. The food was very good and well-prepared. I never had a meal that I found to be inedible or bad. Food is prepared in the typical European fashion, so desserts are not as sweet as our American palate is accustomed to eating. The soups were excellent, as were the warm breads at each meal. We were able to try some interesting things that we had never eaten before, and I would recommend trying all the soups available, even the sauerkraut soup. The house wine is also fine to drink with meals. Of course, part of the fun of travelling to a new country is to try local delicacies in each port of call, which my husband and I did each time we got off the ship. I had no idea there were so many ways to make wurst and sauerkraut, and discovered how yummy real gelato is.
Crew: The crew on the ship was excellent. They were all very friendly and personable and eager to help us with any questions or concerns. The cruise director was very knowledgeable about the areas that we were visiting and I especially enjoyed cruising the romantic Rhine seeing all the castles and hearing the history of the area. The captain and second captain were personable as well and interacted with the passengers on a daily basis.
Shipboard life: On several evenings of the cruise, local entertainers would board the ship and provide the evening's entertainment. We heard a polka band, watched a glass blower, and heard a group with medieval musical instruments. On other evenings, the cruise director gave a presentation on the history of the areas we were visiting, and there was dance music for the tiny dance floor in the lounge.
Excursions: The optional tour in Vienna of a ballet and seeing the Schonbrunn Palace were well worth the extra money. We were given directions on how to use the subway system and were able to do a little exploring on our own, and went to the Hofburg Palace and Mozarthaus. St Stephen's cathedral on the included tour was magnificent. At each stop during the trip, we were able to go on a tour that was included in the cruise fare. These were all led by English speaking local tour guides and the tours included many of the highlights of the towns that we were in. There was usually time for exploring on our own, which we greatly enjoyed. My husband and I took several weeks before we went on our trip to learn German so we could converse with the local inhabitants, which we found greatly enhanced our interactions. We especially enjoyed the medieval town of Rothenburg. We happened to be in Wurzburg during a music festival and were able to hear several choirs practicing in the cathedral, which was amazing. We also purchased a cuckoo clock in Regensburg, which was shipped to us a few weeks after we arrived back home.
We extended our stay in Amsterdam with the optional cruise extension, and are glad that we did. The Uniworld guide was very knowledgeable of the area and took us around the city, introducing us to interesting foods and showing us the historical areas and the Red Light district. We had a tour one day of the windmills, a wooden shoe factory, and farm where Gouda cheese is produced. Amsterdam was chilly and rainy, even in July, so be prepared for this with a rain jacket and umbrella. The Ann Frank house is a do-not-miss, and the Rijksmuseum had a lot of very interesting works of art.
Recommendations for anyone considering this trip: Pack lightly. You can wash laundry in the evening as the ship is sailing down the river.
Buy a Frommer's Guide to the area. This gives you an overview of the town and the history of what you're going to see.
Learn the language. The Pimsleur Method is excellent for learning conversational German (or French or whatever language you need to learn) for travelling. We learned basic greetings, how to ask for directions, how to ask for the bathroom, how to order food and drinks, and to say that we speak/understand a little of the language. As soon as someone realized that we were truly trying, they would typically switch to English, or speak slowly to help us understand what we were trying to find out.
Who would enjoy this trip: Anyone who ever fantasized about being a princess living in a castle. The castles along the Rhine are the things that fairy tales are made of. Also anyone who enjoys history, seeing Roman ruins, and medieval towns.